Sharing Is Caring, Even with Social Media
It was a typical Sunday morning for me in Chicago. I had my Starbucks, my free wi-fi and my Google bookmarks to keep me busy for the next hour until I was fully caffeinated and ready to face the world. I came across a great article that I was really excited to share with my fellow social-networking enthusiasts — but then a very troublesome thing happened. When I went to utilize the “share” feature of this article, I was redirected with an error message. After a bit of scoffing at the thought of actually having to copy and paste the URL into my Twitter account, I began to think about how many other organizations are utilizing sharing tools and other social-media widgets and tools without troubleshooting their functionally.
After some investigating and two additional venti-size coffees, I came to the conclusion that the issues of poorly designed, prepackaged and even dysfunctional sharing tools are far more common than probably you (and I) thought. Here are some of the most common issues I encountered, as well as ways to ensure your organization doesn’t experience the same types of issues:
Widgets can be great tools for sharing customized and engaging content across the Web. An issue I came across specifically regarding widgets was instances of bad code provided for embedding content into user profiles. Would you put up a new landing page on your Web site without making sure all of your hyperlinks worked? Social-media gadgets shouldn’t be treated with any less scrutiny.
I came across this issue when I tried to “grab this code” off a widget and post it to my MySpace profile. When I previewed my profile, all I saw was HTML code instead of the organization's widget. This may occur when widgets are prepackaged; they may embed a code that works on some social-media profile sites (for example, Facebook) but not on others (say, MySpace). If you don’t have profiles on these sites, create them and use them for testing to be sure everything works as it should before going live to your online audience. If the “embed widget” option doesn’t work on certain social-media sites, don’t include those social-media icons as an option to embed.
Usability of sharing tools
Sharing options on Web site pages are great but often suffer from the “prepackaged” issue mentioned above. Do you really need 225 sharing options? By doing a little research using a Web site analytics tool such as Google Analytics, you can learn which social-media and sharing options are most frequently used by your Web site visitors and reorder the 225 options so the most frequently used ones are the only ones that appear. You can keep the “more” option in case you have someone who wants to use, say, Friendster to share your Web page — that option still will be available to them without cluttering up the page for the majority of your users. I suggest addthis.com, which has a user-friendly, familiar drop-down menu interface. And, it's free.
When you are using social-media sharing tools, make sure you are getting the biggest bang for your social-media buck. For example, if you have a “share this” option on your Web site and someone chooses to share an article on Twitter, do you know what the tweet says? Are you using Twitter hash tags? How about key words? Make sure to utilize customization options that will allow you to tweak how exactly the content is shared from your Web site to the user's Twitter account. The text used on Twitter especially is critical, as the more interesting the 140 characters are, the greater chance that content will be re-tweeted.
Christina Johns is senior manager of DRTV and social networking for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.